Jason’s Blog: Twins winning anew
Posted By: Jason Iacovino
Ah, the yin and yang of the 2014 Minnesota Twins.
In April, we were all wondering why on Earth general manager Terry Ryan would spend a king’s ransom on four veteran starting pitchers who could never seem to get out of the fifth inning. Meanwhile, Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello, two guys originally signed to minor league contracts, were looking like early contenders for a batting championship and RBI title.
Brian Dozier looked like he could challenge Toronto’s Jose Bautista for the league lead in homeruns this season. Trevor Plouffe, who back in March was considered a candidate to be replaced by Miguel Sano before it was discovered Sano would need Tommy John surgery, found his way into the 3-spot in the lineup.
Add it all up and the Twins were 12-12 through the first month of the season (Including Opening Day on March 31), a refreshing surprise based upon the grim outlook during spring training. But you kind of had a feeling the oddities of April–both good and bad–would find their way back down to Earth in May.
And they did. The starters are finally acting like a group worthy of $94 million in combined contract values, sans Mike Pelfrey, who has been replaced in the rotation by Samuel Deduno. Phil Hughes in particular has gone from rags to riches, going from 1-1 with a 6.43 ERA in his first four starts to 4-1 (3.61) at present (Although, let’s face it, at 3-years, $24 million, it was always going to be riches for Hughes).
Joe Mauer, who was batting .266 with 1 HR and 5 RBI through 23 games, is suddenly back to a more Mauer-like .301 avg. with 13 RBI (Although all but 5 of his 40 hits have been singles).
On the downside, Kubel and Colabello are now missing in action. Opening Day shortstop Pedro Florimon has been demoted to Triple-A Rochester. Dozier, who bats lead off, is seeing his on-base percentage plummit. Kyle Gibson is once again showing signs of being overmatched by MLB lineups.
But just as winter gives way to spring (In most places), other players are stepping up as our April heroes fade–namely Eduardo Escobar, Josmil Pinto, and a flashy young shortstop named Danny Santana. And the MVP of this operation? That would be Kurt Suzuki–pretty much the only bat in the lineup that has been consistent throughout this first 39-game leg of the season.
I was not the least bit moved by the Suzuki signing in the offseason. I thought Ryan should’ve paid A.J. Pierzynski whatever he demanded in lieu of turning over the full-time catching duties to a powerless .230 hitter. That take looks silly in retrospect. Not only is Suzuki a tremendously durable defensive catcher, he is hitting .325 with 25 RBI and 13 walks against 9 strikeouts.
He has 5 more doubles than Mauer. He has an .815 on-base plus slugging percentage. I would say to expect Suzuki to be the next guy to make a correction after a surprising start, but 39 games is a legitimate sample size. He’s making a case to be in the All-Star game–something that would have seemed impossible for a Twins catcher after they announced Mauer would move to first base.
Oh, there’s one more guy in this lineup who has remained consistent throughout–Aaron Hicks. Unfortunately, Hicks has been consistently anemic at the plate. He was the hero of Thursday’s 4-3 win over Boston with a 10th inning walk-off single, but the scary part is his 1-for-4 day at the plate improved his batting average from .167 to .170.
The Twins are very thin in the outfield–especially centerfield–so they will likely give Hicks another 4-7 games as a leash to see if he can get his offense to respectability. If history is any indicator (And granted it’s a brief history), that won’t happen and Hicks will soon join Florimon as a Opening Day starters in Rochester.
Still–this team is 19-20 through 39 games. They are coming off series wins over Detroit and Boston. Imagine what could happen if the bulk of the lineup starts to click while the starters keep the consistency we’ve seen in the last 3 weeks? This team could sail above the .500 mark.
A few things will need hold true for that to happen. Dozier has to get on base more. Mauer has to turn a few of his singles into doubles. Someone from the Plouffe / Colabello / Kubel trio needs to return to April form.
But even if these things don’t necessarily come to fruition, at least we know that for the moment the Twins have what it takes to hover around respectability–something that did not seem possible two months ago. If they keep it up, Ron Gardenhire will go from goat to hero in 2014.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.